Nenthead, Spring 2017

Max has arrived.
It's hard to believe that it's been over a year since I was last here. I love Nenthead, every time I go here here it's to stay for the weekend, and we always get a decent amount of exploring in, and this would be my fifth visit in seven years. Each mine has something completely different to offer. This time, for the first time, I would be the only one there who has been to Nent before, and as such, kind of, sort of "leading" the trip. Maybe.
Saturday morning saw me out of bed for a criminally early start to collect Matt, and head North. Two and a half hours later, we arrived at Mill Cottage Bunkhouse to be shown around by our kind host, and wait for the others in the sunshine.

Richard, Max and Gabby arrived in true mental style, and in exceptionally high spirits. Everyone was pretty hyped to get underground, and I was looking forward to showing the Nent noobs what Rampgill Mine has to offer. With Gabby leading the way and me following, it didn't take long for exclamations of delight to start echoing up the adit behind us, and we were soon seperated from the others. Leading and route finding underground gives you a completely different perspective on any extensive cave or mine. Even though Rampgill is very straightforward we were unable to find the horse gin even with Ed's directions (which I read completely wrong)!

Richard at the top of a shaft in Prouds
When someone else is doing it you don't pay as much attention to where you are going, the focus is just not there. Max and Matt were extremely pre-occupied with the shiny things everywhere, no matter how many times I tried to explain it gets better the further in we go, that the mine tomorrow would be even better again... alas to no avail they would not listen to me and we didn't get further than the Engine Shaft. By 5pm thoughts had turned to getting out and enjoying the last of the sun, a chippy tea, and a pint at the Miners Arms.

After Rampgill
A good portion of Saturday night was spent star gazing and photographing. Nenthead and the surrounding area is England's only internationally recognised dark sky area. On previous trips I have seen the milky way clearer here than anywhere else I've been, it's truly stunning. We walked up to Smallcleugh, took some more photos, then lay back and switched the lights off for 10 minutes to allow our eyes to adjust. Magic.

Max Stargazing at Smallcleugh

Sunday came bright and early, with a plan to be underground for 11am latest. We took the opportunity to enjoy the morning sun on top of the water wheels, and had some fun climbing on them. Phil from the bunkhouse brought us breakfast in the form of bacon and sausage barms. We could not fault the Mill Cottage, it cost £20 each for the night in the most comfortable and roomy beds I've ever experienced in a bunkhouse. It is in an ideal location for mine exploring, and plenty else to see in this highly picturesque and quiet part of England. Plus we were able to wash and dry all our gear ready for the next days exploring, always a big bonus on these sort of weekends. There is nothing worse than having to put on a slighty damp undersuit the next day after a sweaty mooch underground!

Richard on one of the Waterwheels
After much packing and many faffage later, we were finally on track for getting down Brownley Hills by midday. This I had planned to be more of a chilled mooching day, one where we could park ourselves in the flat and spread out, explore, hunt for minerals, and take photos. I have never taken my camera in Brownley Hills before so I was looking foward to spending some time getting shots, so often on underground trips, and actually most things we do, you are rushed, pushed for time, conscious of others, etc. Being able to properly take your time in the company of another photographer is a luxury.

Gabby at the Blue Lagoon
Despite going to Nenthead with little intention of collecting any rocks, I still ended up with some quartz stuck in my eye. An hour later it hstill not come out so I tried to wash it out with water but no joy. Several hours later it was still bothering me when we got out of the mine but not enough to stop me driving. An hour or so from home it was getting painful, and my eye began to water uncontrollably on the motorway. Apart from a quick stop I drove straight to Stepping Hill hospital, arriving at 9pm, to be told there was a 4 hour wait to be seen in A&E. This soon turned into an agonising 5 hour wait; my eye was swelling up, I couldn't see anything but blurred light, and every movement caused intense discomfort. Finally, almost 6 hours after arriving, I was seen by a nurse who checked out my eye using a slit lens, and confirmed I had tiny pieces of quartz stuck in my cornea. He tried to wash it out, it didn't work, so he called for a doctor. The doctor looked at it then told the nurse to anaesthatise my eyeball, he was "going in".
Me- "What does that mean?"
Doctor- "It means doing something that makes me feel sick."
Me- "Makes you feel sick? (doctor putting gloves on) "...that doesn't sound good, what is it... how do you... what are you doing?"
Doctor- "We will have to pick it out with a needle."
Me- "What? Seriously?"
Doctor- "Mmm. You need to stay very still"
Me- "Whoa."
Doctor- "Put your chin on the rest and clench your teeth."
Me- "Oh god...."

Then followed what has got to be the most sickeningly unpleasant hour of my life while the doctor held my eye open and slowly picked the quartz out. Being poked in the eye with a needle is a very weird experience. I couldn't feel any pain, but I could sense, or almost hear the flicking sensation, and it is fucking freaky, at first I just couldn't not blink everytime the needle touched my eye. Trying to stare at a spot and not move my eye at all while he was digging around my cornea with a needle... just uffff. After each bit came out the nurse would wash my eye out, give me time to try and blink the rest out, then re-anaesthatise and go in with the needle again. This was repeated three times until at 4.30am he gave up and I don't blame him. "Right, 95% of it is out, but I can't do anymore. You will need to see optahmology in the morning, they have better tools there." Once the ordeal was over my jaw was killing from clehing my teeth so hard for so long.

Don't get me wrong, I have experienced pure pain many times greater than this, however this was exceptionally uncomfortable, incredibly annoying, and moreover just very scary. Losing your vision is a terrifying thing to deal with, even just for a couple of days. Sat in A&E on my own for 6 hours, and driving home with one eye was awful, sleep was difficult, I couldn't close my eye properly and kept waking up in pain with a soaking wet pillow. The next afternoon I went back to opthamology and saw a specialist who managed to get out the last tiny piece of quartz, lodged where the cornea meets the iris. Although the consultant didn't know what quartz was (?!), he managed to anaesthatise and get it out within a minute, giving almost instant relief. The quartz has permanently scarred my eye, but fortunately not he said, in my line of vision. My iris now has a tiny, unnoticable dent in it. Ah well- alls well that ends well.

Safety goggles guys!

After Brownley Hills
 Many thanks to Julie and Phil at the excellent Mill Cottage Bunkhouse.